There’s nothing wrong with a small band having big dreams. Such is the case with the indie group We Barbarians, who moved from the west coast of the United States (Long Beach, California) to the east coast—in this case, New York City. It would seem that like every other band, they simply wanted to be heard. Still, some seem to think that such a move might smack of calculation to the point where the hysterical masses of hipster indie kids are absolutely uptight with this band, in a negative way. You only have to go to the comments section of the review of their latest EP, a digital release, called Headspace posted at Consequence of Sound to bear out the fact that some people think We Barbarians might just be the next Coldplay—a band to be hated and derided for their commercial underpinnings. Here’s just a smattering of what people were saying (typos and bad grammar largely left intact, in true comments section form):
This band is derivative and terrible. They have no edge and nothing to offer. the whole new post punk wave died quickly going on 10 years ago.
this is the most predictable piece of crap ive ever heard, it (is) so boring and outdated ... everytime i hear about a new exciting band i seem to convince myself that it may possibly be a fresh new style, but then i listen to it and it sounds like an uninspired hipster ripoff of a ripoff of a band influenced by something that was ok in the 80’s. i cant wait until this tired old crap is gone ... this is the taproot, trapt, sugar ray of the 2010’s ... at first it seemed cool but now no one cares and everyone will forget.
All you can pretty much say to that is … ouch!
It’s hard to say why We Barbarians evokes such a visceral reaction. Is it the fact that they sound a little like the big arena-sized anthemic groups of yore, such as U2 and Simple Minds? Is it the fact that they also beg, borrow and steal from the styles of latter day indie bands in equal measure, such as Arcade Fire? (I should pause here to note that Arcade Fire and U2 have shared a stage, at the same time, in the past—at least here in Ottawa, Canada, around the time the former was promoting their Neon Bible album.) Is it the fact that on the Headspace EP, the trio has the audacity to cover David Byrne and Brian Eno’s “Strange Overtones”, which might be an odd and ambitious choice for a bunch of indie kids to tackle? It’s hard to say, really, but one fact remains: We Barbarians aren’t nearly as bad as their detractors make them out to be. They might not be a group that’s going to light the world on fire with their soaring innovation, but, as this five-song collection attests, they are able to mine a big, brash sound and make it sound a little bit of all their own. We Barbarians aren’t exactly an excellent band, but they know how to bring the rock out, and, sometimes, that’s all you need.
One of the highlights of Headspace is the shambolic “The Wait is Over”, which jumps, jives and wails with shimmering guitar work that holds court in a bluesy swagger. The song is slick, but has a layer of crunch that is deeply affecting, particularly when the rolling chorus comes around. The aforementioned Byrne/Eno cover, similarly, has a brash rocking sound to it, and is sleek in the best way that driving around at night in a city of neon light would suggest. I will admit that I’m not familiar with the original, but I have the feeling that the former Talking Head and the Godfather of Ambient never imagined the song to be so calculated in feeling, in a not-so-bad way, I might add. “Stroke by Stroke”, meanwhile, kinda, sorta, sounds a little like, well, the Strokes, which a dash of Arcade Fire-esque background “ooooh oooh’s” that would normally be provided by Régine Chassagne in that group for good measure. And on it goes.
If anything, Headspace is well suited to shuffle mode. I say this as I received a digital copy of the album without a track order, and two online reviews actually disagree over what is the album’s final song. Therefore, I’m not sure if there’s a way to enjoy this extended play without putting down money for the real thing, which I would assume comes with the proper sequencing intact. Still, the parts of Headspace make up to a mostly agreeable whole. The album isn’t an embarrassment simply because the band is able to take elements of past influences – from new wave to double-oughts indie rock to stadium sized sounds – and agreeably mixes them into a fairly potent blend of pop bliss. While there might not be a clear-cut standout to be found on the EP, such as it is as a perfect blend of songs seamlessly fitting together, there isn’t a horrible misstep to be found, either. Ergo, I’m not sure what it is that makes the haters hate We Barbarians, but the group is clearly not the abomination that some people make them out to be. All in all, Headspace is a great little EP full of catchy and rolling riffs, and if you like looking backwards in your music collection with a little je ne sais quoi added to the mix, you find that We Barbarians might actually agree with you. Of course, not everyone will feel the same way, too, but let those who just don’t get this band crawl back under a rock. Headspace is a sound collection of songs, and, in the long run, you can’t let anyone dissuade you from that fact.